TESTIMONY OF RANDAL BOWMAN, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS ON S. 1325, RATIFICATION OF THE ADAK, AK LAND EXCHANGE AGREEMENT
May 9, 2002
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on S. 1325, which would ratify a land exchange agreement negotiated between the Federal government and The Aleut Corporation concerning the former Naval Air Facility, Adak, and much of the surrounding military withdrawal on the remote Adak Island in the Aleutian Chain of Alaska.
After five years of negotiations, The Department of the Interior, the Department of the Navy, and The Aleut Corporation signed a land exchange agreement in September of 2000. This Agreement has subsequently been renewed twice. Legislation ratifying the signed agreement is necessary to remove the former Naval Complex from the National Wildlife Refuge system. Legislation would also resolve several legal issues regarding the conveyance of real and personal property.
Adak Island was withdrawn in 1913 as a wildlife preserve and in 1940 designated a National Wildlife Refuge. In 1959, the Secretary of the Interior withdrew and reserved the northern portion of the island for use by the Navy for military purposes in Public Land Order No. 1949. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act incorporated Adak Island, and other refuge islands, as part of the new Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The Naval Air Facility - Adak was operationally closed in March 1997 under the Base Realignment and Closure procedures. The Navy will request revocation of the Public Land Order as the final part of its base closure and cleanup.
At its peak, the Navy-built infrastructure on Adak could support a small city of about 6,000 people. The Naval Complex is also a "Super Fund Site" with more than 96 contaminated sites. The Navy has acknowledged responsibility for cleanup and is currently taking remedial actions. However, it is unlikely that the intensively used area could be suitably rehabilitated for use as a wildlife refuge.
After the base closure announcement was made, The Aleut Corporation offered to exchange a portion of its Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act entitlement, elsewhere in the Aleutian Islands, for the northern portion of Adak Island occupied by the Naval Complex. With the exception of cemetery and historic sites, Adak Island was not available for selection under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
The outline of a basic exchange agreement was negotiated by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Navy and The Aleut Corporation in December 1996. This agreement involved an unequal value exchange of about 47,000 acres of The Aleut Corporation's Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act entitlement for an equal number of acres including the improvements on the Adak Naval Complex. Negotiations were complex and required the resolution of issues such as indemnification, long-term responsibility for demolition and cleanup of the buildings not needed for reuse, actual exchange boundaries, the status of the Fish and Wildlife Service's administrative facilities on Adak and The Aleut Corporation's desire for an immediate master lease on Adak to start reuse prior to completion of an exchange agreement. In March of 1998, a hearing was held before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Several weeks after the hearing the Navy announced they had discovered archival evidence from World War II of additional unexploded ordnance (UXO). The discovery stalled negotiations and started a intensive ordnance and explosives cleanup on the island.
In September of 2000, with ordnance and explosives cleanup underway and several significant issues regarding exchange boundaries resolved, the Parties signed an exchange agreement. This agreement has been renewed twice and is currently valid until December 31, 2002. Additionally, The Aleut Corporation is trying to establish viable businesses and a community on the island. The city of Adak was incorporated as a second-class city by the State of Alaska in spring of 2001. In March 2002, the Navy announced that the last uniformed Navy personnel had left the island. The Navy has recently signed a Finding of Suitability for Transfer for 32,150 acres of lands included in the agreement. Cleanup will continue this summer on the remainder (15,000 acres) of the exchange lands and presumably a Finding of Suitability for Transfer for this remainder can be finalized in 2003. It should be noted that the decision point for the Aleut Corporation in the signed agreement is 90 days after EPA concurs with the Finding of Suitability for Transfers signed by the Navy for the remainder of the exchange lands.
By our actions over the last seven years, the Service has clearly demonstrated our commitment in helping The Aleut Corporation reuse the former Adak Naval Air Facility. We are willing to have lands with improvements on Adak removed from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in exchange for undeveloped land elsewhere in the Aleutians. We want the community of Adak to succeed. Like the Aleuts, the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge has a long-term commitment in the Aleutians. For years, the Navy presence on Adak facilitated our management activities in the Aleutians. We maintain a refuge subunit headquarters on the island and have used Adak as a resupply port for our 120 foot research vessel. We will continue working in the Aleutians and with the community of Adak.
We recognize both The Aleut Corporation's desire to profitably convert the considerable infrastructure on Adak to a successful new community as well as their reluctance to expose their corporation to financial risk. Therefore The Aleut Corporation, not the Federal Government, must make their final decision as to whether a land exchange involving Adak is in the best interest of the corporation and its shareholders.
In the end a land exchange involving national wildlife refuge lands must also benefit, or at least not harm, the National Wildlife Refuge system. Therefore, we support the approach S. 1325 takes of ratifying a completed exchange agreement between the Federal Government and The Aleut Corporation. We have negotiated a good agreement that gives The Aleut Corporation considerable land and facilities on Adak in exchange for their entitlement to other Aleutian islands valuable as wildlife habitat.
Disclaimer: All statements are not the opinions or position of those testifying, rather they are the official positions taken by the Administration.